Learn Bil Herd’s DIY Surface Mount Assembly Process

You can do your own Surface Mount Technology based PCB assembly with just a handful of tools and some patience. At the heart of my SMT process is stopping to inspect the various steps all while trying to maintain a bit of cleanliness in the process.

Surface mount or Surface Mount Technology (SMT) is the modern way to assemble Printed Circuit Boards (PCB) and is what is commonly seen when opening a modern piece of tech. It’s much smaller than the older Through-Hole (TH) technology where the component leads were inserted into holes in PCB, and act we called “stuffing” since we had to stuff the components into the holes.

A few specialized tools make this a lot easier, but resourceful hackers will be able to pull together a solder paste stencil jig, vacuum tweezers, and a modified toaster oven with a controller that can follow the reflow profile of the solder paste. Where you shouldn’t skimp is on the quality, age, and storage of the solder paste itself.

Join me after the break for my video overview of the process I use in my workshop, along with details of every step of my SMT assembly process.

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Video: Exploring The Abandoned Birthplace Of The 6502 And Commodore 64

I miss my friend Dave DiOrio. He was a chip designer in the 1980’s, which made him one of the true wizards back then. We met my first day when I started at Commodore Business Machines, though my paycheck said MOS Technology on it.

MOS Technology was the birthplace of the venerable 6502 microprocessor, the VIC video chip, and the SID sound chip to name the really famous ones. It also brought us the TED Text Display chip, a whole boatload of Amiga chips, and several other chips that almost did what we wanted them to do.

I worked with magicians whose stock and trade were comprised of half-part quantum tunneling effect and half-part straight-up logic implementation. These magicians weren’t bound by the number of pins available for TTL logic, not like us lowly hardware engineers who had to string 14 and 16 pin chips together to do any real lifting.

Below the spartan offices where the designs were drawn lived the dragon otherwise known as a chip fab, short for integrated circuit fabrication plant. This beast ate sand and made wafers; slices of almost pure silicon in crystalline form with all kinds of intricate things craftily grown on top of them.

Memory Lane: Touring the Abandoned MOS Headquarters

MOS Technology was started in 1969 by Allen Bradley but only became the MOS that I think of when I talk about the good old days when Chuck Peddle and a bunch of cohorts from Motorola, including Bill Mensch, swept in and produced the 6502 microprocessor, which resembled a particular Motorola processor quite a bit, in fact a lot. Lawsuits followed.

Meanwhile the 6502 was taking over several industries as the go-to processor for everything from medical equipment to microwave ovens to home computers. It was while designing home computers that I met Dave while standing above a chip fab. I can still remember the smell of that dragon farting below our feet… its an understatement to say I miss those times.

A couple of years ago I had a chance to return to the old stomping ground as it were, and set foot (legally) inside of MOS headquarters in Norristown, PA — which had become CSG (Commodore Semiconductor Group) by the end. The basement was dirty and flooded and yet we found wafers, one from one of the computers I worked on.

The ground floor was dark and quiet, I stood at the dirty glass entrance doors looking out at a drab street and I quickly moved on before I got hit by some sort of self evident metaphor for life that would have been annoying.

The second floor was where our offices had been. The hot press of design deadlines has long since left this space, now all there is to see is the golf course out the window and a little camp fire someone had made. I got to show this video to Dave, including the view looking out his old office window, and we both smiled at the thought that it was now 35 years later.

Dave has since passed away, the world has one less wizard and as the video shows, the dragon has long since gone quiet.

Video: Bil Herds Looks At Mitosis

I loved my science courses when I was in Junior High School; we leaned to make batteries, how molecules combine to form the world we see around us, and basically I got a picture of where we stood in the  scheme of things, though Quarks had yet to be discovered at the time.

In talking with my son I found out that there wasn’t much budget for Science learning materials in his school system like we had back in my day, he had done very little practical hands-on experiments that I remember so fondly. One of those experiments was to look and draw the stages of mitosis as seen under a Microscope. This was amazing to me back in the day, and cemented the wonder of seeing cell division into my memory to this day, much like when I saw the shadow of one of Jupiter’s moons with my own eyes!

Now I have to stop and tell you that I am not normal, or at least was not considered to be a typical young’un growing up near a river in rural Indiana in the 60’s. I had my own microscope; it quite simply was my pride and joy. I had gotten it while I was in the first or second grade as a present and I loved the thing. It was just horrible to use in its later years as lens displaced, the focus rack became looser if that was possible, and dirt accumulated on the internal lens; and yet I loved it and still have it to this day! As I write this, I realize that it’s the oldest thing that I own. (that and the book that came with it).

Today we have better tools and they’re pretty easy to come by. I want to encourage you to do some science with them. (Don’t just look at your solder joints!) Check out the video about seeing mitosis of onion cells through the microscope, then join me below for more on the topic!

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Honoring Chuck Peddle; Father Of The 6502 And The Chips That Went With It

Chuck Peddle, the patriarch of the 6502 microprocessor, died recently. Most people don’t know the effect that he and his team of engineers had on their lives. We often take the world of microprocessor for granted as a commonplace component in computation device, yet there was a time when there were just processors, and they were the size of whole printed circuit boards.

Chuck had the wild idea while working at Motorola that they could shrink the expensive processor board down to an integrated circuit, a chip, and that it would cost much less, tens of dollars instead of ten thousand plus. To hear Chuck talk about it, he got a cease-and-desist letter from the part of Motorola that made their living selling $14,000 processor boards and to knock off all of the noise about a $25 alternative.

In Chuck’s mind this was permission to take his idea, and the engineering team, elsewhere. Chuck and his team started MOS Technologies in the 1970’s in Norristown PA, and re-purposed their work on the Motorola 6800 to become the MOS 6502. Lawsuits followed.

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Video: Putting High Speed PCB Design To The Test

Designing circuit boards for high speed applications requires special considerations. This you already know, but what exactly do you need to do differently from common board layout? Building on where I left off discussing impedance in 2 layer Printed Circuit Board (PCB) designs, I wanted to start talking about high speed design techniques as they relate to PCBs.  This is the world of multi-layer PCBs and where the impedance of both the Power Delivery Network (PDN) and the integrity of the signals themselves (Signal Integrity or SI) become very important factors.

I put together a few board designs to test out different situations that affect high speed signals. You’ve likely heard of vias and traces laid out at right angles having an impact. But have you considered how the glass fabric weave in the board itself impacts a design? In this video I grabbed some of my fanciest test equipment and put these design assumptions to the test. Have a look and then join me after the break for more details on what went into this!

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Inductance In PCB Layout: The Good, The Bad, And The Fugly

When current flows through a conductor it becomes an inductor, when there is an inductor there is an electromagnetic field (EM). This can cause a variety of issues during PCB layout if you don’t plan properly, and sometimes we get burned even when we think we have planned for unwanted inductance and the effects that come with them.

When doing high speed logic we need to be able to deliver sudden changes in current to the devices if we want to have proper switching times and logic levels. Unfortunately inductance is usually not a friend in these circumstances as it resists those sudden changes in current. If the high speed devices are driving capacitive loads, which themselves are resisting changes in voltage, even more instantaneous current is needed.

Simply put, inductors resist a change of current, and can act as a low pass filter when in series with the signal or power supply flow. Inductors do this by storing energy in the flux surrounding the conductor. Alternatively capacitors resist a change in voltage (again by storing energy) and can act as a high pass filter when in series with the signal. This makes them a valuable tool in the fight against unwanted inductance in power supply distribution.

In the video below, and the remainder of this article, I’m going to dive into the concept of inductance and how it affects our design choices when laying out circuit boards.

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How To Do Beautiful Enclosures With Custom Fiberglass

There are times when I feel the need to really make a mess. When I think of making messes with a degree of permanency, I think of fiberglass. I also really like the smell, reminds me of a simpler time in 8th grade shop class. But the whole process, including the mess, is worth it for the amazing shapes you can produce for speaker pods and custom enclosures.

Utilizing fiberglass for something like a custom speaker pod for a car is not difficult, but it does tend to be tedious when it comes to the finishing stages. If you have ever done bodywork on a car you know what kind of mess and effort I am talking about. In the video below, I make a simple speaker pod meant for mounting a speaker to the surface of something like a car door.

You can also use a combination of wood and fiberglass to make subwoofer cabinets that are molded to the area around them. You can even replace your entire door panel with a slick custom shaped one with built in speakers  if you’re feeling adventuresome.

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